Saturday, 25 June 2005

Suetonius on Augustus's Sexual Proclivities





As a young man Augustus was accused of various improprieties. For instance, Sextus Pompey jeered at his effeminacy; Mark Antony alleged that Julius Caesar made him submit to unnatural relations as the price of adoption; Antony’s brother Lucius added that after sacrificing his virtue to Caesar, Augustus had sold his favours to Aulus Hirtius in Spain, for 3,000 gold pieces and that he used to soften the hair in his legs by singeing them with red-hot walnut shells.
Not even his friends could deny that he often commited adultery, though of course they said, in justification, that he did so for reasons of state, not simply passion – he wanted to discover what his enemies were at by getting intimate with their wives or daughters. Mark antonym accused him not only of indecent haste in marrying Livia, but of hauling an ex-consul’s wife from her husband’s dining room into the bedroom – before his eyes too! He brought the woman back, says Antony, blushing to the ears and with her hair in disorder. Antony also writes that Scribonia was divorced for having said a little too much when a rival got her claws into Augustus and that his friends used to behave like Toranius, the slave dealer, in arranging his pleasures for him – they would strip mothers of families, or grown girls of their clothes and inspect them as though they were up for sale. A racy letter of Antony’s survives, written before he and Augustus had quarrelled privately or publicly:

“What has come over you? Do you object to my sleeping with Cleopatra? But we are married; and it is not even as though this were anything new – the affair started nine years ago. And what about you? Are you faithful to Livia Drusilla? My congratulations if, when this letter arrives, you havenot been in bed with Tertullia, or Terentilla, or Rufilla, or Salvia Titisenia – or all of them. Does it really matter so much where, or with whom you perform the sexual act?”


And Suetonius goes on to say:

The charge of being a womanizer stuck, and as an elderly man he is said to have still harboured a passion for deflowering girls, who were collected for him from every quarter, even by his wife! [Livia]

6 comments:

Daldianus said...

What a stallion he was! ;)

Alterior said...

And a good looking one too! ;-)

Peter said...

I'm being a bit dense here, but is that your view of the statue or was he viewed that way by contemporaries?

Sextus Pompey jeered at his effeminacy

This reminds me of the film Cleopatra, in which I was surprised to see Augustus played quite effeminately. It formed a sharp contrast with the I, Claudius television series, in which he was played by Brian Blessed of all people. But the former version seemed a more compelling and interesting character and leader. Did anyone elaborate on the ways in which he seemed effeminate?

Alterior said...

It could not be my view as I never met him in person (not in the lifetime anyway!), lol! :-))) No, seriously, ancient texts describe Augustus as being extremely good looking. He was however not very tall, only around 5ft 6in.

Alterior said...

I meant " not in this lifetime" (lol, typo...) :-))

Peter said...

Judging by the number of accounts I've read, being vertically challenged seems almost a prerequisite for leaving a great historical mark. Jeremy Paxman has noted just how huge is the proportion of British Prime Ministers whose fathers died while they were very young, suggesting the resultant disadvantages provoke in them a desire to work ever harder. Perhaps a man whose height gives him a constant sense of inferiority may sometimes respond in the same way. It's something that merits serious study. In the mean time, I'm off to find a way to lose six inches or so...